Photos and Words by Jennifer Cassity
Tiki Oasis was celebrating the 11th year of their annual event, but since this would be my first time I could only guess what it would be like. A literal oasis is ‘a place of peace, safety or happiness in the midst of trouble or difficulty’. After experiencing “Tiki Oasis 2011” I can say that it’s quite fittingly named. Walking in I only knew a few things about the event: there would be amazing exotica music (and I LOVE the exotica genre), LuxuriaMusic Internet Radio would be broadcasting live from the event, and there would be tiki drinks (I LOVE tiki drinks). So that’s, three for three on the good-time scale.
Maybe Jason Lee’s (of Jason Lee and the R.I.P Tides) wife said it best when she told me: “I came here three years ago and felt like I found home”.
As we walked into the Crowne Plaza for the first time we were greeted with fellow Tiki goers in Hawaiian shirts and hats, vendors with smiles on their faces and bartenders serving Primo beer. There was no better place to be. The entire day the pool area was filled with people, music, makeshift shops in the courtyard, and numerous symposiums. This wasn’t some conference. The symposiums range from lectures on ‘charm & dance school’, ‘Polynesian Pop in Mid Century San Diego’, ‘Dr. Sketchy’s Anti Art School’, to things like three days of surf guitar lessons from the legend Jason Lee, of Jason Lee and the R.I.P. Tides. Where he was teaching chords and riffs on his 60th Anniversary Strat from the sets he played the day prior, and would be playing that evening in one of the room parties.
Full of knowledge from the symposiums we headed to a retro car show in the parking lot. These old American relics helped set the tone even more as we began to celebrate culture that first emerged in the 30’s and peaked even more interest following World War II. We filled up our drinks and went shopping at the indoor and outdoor vendors – one of which was the Dionysus Records booth.
The awesomely outfitted Lee Joseph was at the booth and we were very excited to meet him because we had been buying Dionysus’ records for years. If you have never heard of the label, check out their newest release by a band called Creepxotica (they performed multiple times throughout the weekend). Also known as the Creepy Creeps, these San Diegans also play in heavier bands like The Locust and Tarantula Hawk. Once they don their mariachi outfits, they transform into Creepxotica, which sounds more like a modern surf-rock band that has been listening to tons of Arthur Lyman and Martin Denny. These cool cats provided the perfect soundtrack for our tropical weekender. As if we werenʼt lucky enough to be around such great people, Lee Joseph DJʼd while we ate our lunch on an outdoor patio 10 feet above the pool, the entire moment was paradise.
As it reached late afternoon, the vendors closed up shop and party go’ers retreated to their rooms to change into night attire. Lawn chairs began to save spots in front of the main stage and I knew I was in for a show. The night started with a little emcee action by King Kukulele with the ‘Coronaphone’; yes, a Corona pinata microphone.
The first act of the evening was Jack “Mr. Bongo” Costanzo. Jack Costanzo has been recording since the late 40’s and retired from recording in the late 90’s; he is one of the best known bongo players in the Tiki Oasis world. I had not been privy to the talent that was “Mr. Bongo” but it was made clear to the 30-or-so children dancing wildly up front, the colorfully dressed attendees, and myself, that Jack Costanzo loved playing the bongos and was one of the best in the world.
Next up were the pleasing tones and rhythms of Orchestra Superstring of the well-respected Dionysus Records. Sitting up front, Indian style, listening to the many instruments in awe; Orchestra Superstring played an ‘exotic hypnotic blend of Afro-Cuban, Latin and other world music’, instantly teleporting me to Hawaii and the peaceful beaches and crystal blue waters.
Sure I had heard the term burlesque before – but actual burlesque dancers? Wow. These ladies are good, really good. Shaking their hips and tassels like none other, we were graced with performances by Dixie Von Trixie, Mimi Le Meaux, Violetta Beretta and Tana the Tattooed Lady. I was in awe of their lives and they left me wanting to know more about them – which I guess means they did their part.
The last and final set before the madness of the all night room parties was Herb, “A Tribute to Herb Alpert”. Mr. Alpert, the “A” of “A&M” Records, has hits consisting of five number one hits, 28 albums on the Billboard charts, eight Grammy awards, 14 Platinum albums and 15 Gold albums. This tiki-inspired event with a ‘South of the Border‘ theme paid him a tribute of Latin-infused beats.
Tiki Oasis has yet another distinction in that unlike most events, here once the headlining act ends the party STARTS. Strewn about the elevator shafts and atrium of rooms are flyers and postcards for several hotel room parties. “Room #1542 – Come for good drinks!”, “Room #1222 10:30 PM – 2:00 AM”, …furniture is removed, the suite bar area is set up and bands are scheduled to play. In the hotel rooms!?! I think about it now and still my mouth drops as I had never in my life seen anything or been a part of anything like it. The hotel played its part to perfection giving the guests what they wanted, a place to party down ‘til the early morning hours.
Going from one room party to the next (and I went to every one), the parties had spilled out of the rooms and bands from earlier in the day were playing impromptu songs all over the hotel. I think it was when I was traveling from the 5th to the 12th floor for another room party that the elevator opened and there was Creepxotica playing the elevator with about 10 guests inside. One of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. I could do a whole separate feature just on the room parties but perhaps I’ll save that for next year. All I know is when I got home at 2:00 am; I could still hear the music coming from those rooms 2 miles away.
Sunday morning came and we returned back to the Festival, our the place of peace, safety and happiness one more time. Now we returned able to say hi to our new found friends. We heard the stories of what ensued after we left the hotel the night prior which consisted of fire alarms, and someone playing the drums in the courtyard at 6:00 am. I told them that I’d be booking our hotel room for next year as soon as possible. They informed us that next year is spy themed and I’m already planning my outfit. These people are in the know; Tiki Oasis is a true celebration of art, music and culture. Now I understand Jason Leeʼs wife because after my first year at Tiki Oasis, I feel as though I found home.
Tiki Oasis 2011 Pictures
Photos and Words by Jennifer Cassity